Four Hundred Burpees Later

12 Apr

“Who is coming to class on Thursday?” the instructor asked after Tuesday’s sweat session.

No response.

“Liz, you’re signed up” he said.  “Why are you coming?”

Why was I going?  Very simply, because the class scared me to death.  Sure, I can box and run marathons and bench my body weight but burpees?  Specifically, 400 burpees, even split between 2-3 people, scared me.

And when I choose the classes I take each week, I take 3 things into consideration: 1) my schedule and 2) what skills are being taught that I want to practice or learn and 3) what class scares me the most.  And I make sure to sign up for that one. Because the whole reason for going to this new gym is to challenge myself – meet new people, Olympic weight lift with other women (something I have not done since college), get in better overall shape.

So when I saw this class, I knew I had to take it:
In groups of 2-3- complete as a team, with only 1 person working at a time, each exercise before moving on to the next exercise.  Break into sets of 10, 20, 30, or however many you want to start with- but as soon as you are tired, rotate to the next person!  Pick your strategy wisely.

100 Pushups
200 Squat Jumps
300 KB Swings 16 – men /12kg – women
400 Burpees
2000M Row

I don’t love Burpees.  All that jumping up and down is exhausting.  Pushups I love.  Various other hard exercises I tolerate.  But Burpees don’t really thrill me.  But…I’ve promised myself to get better at things I don’t like doing.  And the team concept intrigued me – would I find it harder to do Burpees when teammates are watching or would it keep me honest and spur me on to dig deep?

I had to find out.

By Thursday morning, I was having second thoughts.  An intense class of Muscle-Ups and heavy lifting the night before (followed by Tabata rounds with no rest breaks) left my arms literally shaking. And it was lightly raining when it was time to bike to class.  It would be so easy to not show up, I thought.  Except that I knew the coach knew I was signed up….and that I had said I was going to do something that scared me.

So I went.  And I thought “Well, I’ll just get on a team with a couple of strong guys or experienced women and I can be the weakest link.”

Reality: I struck up a conversation with another woman only to learn that it was her first class ever.  She didn’t even know what a Burpee was. She’d never rowed before. And…I decided I was willing to help her through, no matter how slow it made us.  We were assigned a third teammate.  It was her second class ever.  She’d never done 10 Burpees in a row before.  Clearly, we were going to die.

Instead, we pushed through.  We cheered each other on, we had the best strategy transitioning from person to person, the coach was very impressed.  Did we complete our challenge in the 40 minutes teams should?  No.  But we shocked everyone in class by being the first team to finish (with a large margin).  I shocked myself by not hating Burpees as much as I used to.  We took turns doing 5 in a row but by 300, we were ready to finish and decided to each do 10 in a row.  It was hard but I never once slowed down – we got faster towards the end, and we didn’t settle for any of the modifications.  I was able to keep count, keep the coach updated on our progress, encourage my team, and handle my own Burpees.  I even managed to row my fastest 1000M ever, leaving my teammates to each do 500M while I cheered them on.

And the foam roller after never felt so good/bad before…

As I biked home, in the dark, along the Charles River Bike path, viewing the lights twinkling across the river in Cambridge and the car headlights impatiently blinking on Storrow Drive, I was finally able to reflect on the workout.  I could never do 400 Burpees on my own in 15 minutes.  But, working with a team, I pushed myself further than I thought possible.  Someone who thought she could only do 5 unbroken managed to do 10. Someone who had never done one before jumped in enthusiastically and had them perfected by about #200.  We didn’t beat the time challenge yet we beat our own assumptions of what we could do.  Our coach was grinning ear to ear when we finished the rowing.

It feels good to realize that even stubborn people like me limit ourselves on a daily basis by thinking of what we’ve done in the past and assuming that’s all we can handle going forward.  Now I know that I can do more than I thought possible.  Granted, I will sweat a lot in the process and my arms will shake and I will think I can’t finish. But I will.

As I neared the scary bike ramp, the one that says “Bikes must be walked” and that is very curved and tight, I didn’t hop off my bike per usual.  It was too late for the usual pedestrians and joggers to be out and the bike ramp was empty.  “I’ve never biked up this steep thing and along all the curves before” was my internal dialogue.  “And my body is sore and battered from the workout. But I think maybe I can do this.”

And I did.

Which means I need to find something new to challenge myself with today.

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